Why the Phils Will Suck Until Ruben Amaro Jr. Goes

Filed in National by on March 31, 2013

Let me be clear. It’s possible, just possible, that they might have one year left. I don’t think so, though. Not with the aging and defensively-challenged additions they made this offseason: Michael Young and Delmon Young. Neither of whom are ‘Forever Young’.

But, that’s it. Why? Because Amaro insists on ignoring one of the most important tools in the GM’s toolbox: statistical analysis, aka ‘sabermetrics’.

From a revealing article  by Matt Gelb in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

I don’t care about walks,” Amaro said in January. “I care about production. To be frank with you, I’ve said this all along. All of the sabermatricians and all of the people who think they know exactly what makes a good club . . . to me, it’s more about run production and being able to score runs and drive in runs.”

Baseball is awash with more knowledge than ever before. The Phillies generated success with willful ignorance of that information. Fewer and fewer teams value their scouts’ evaluations as much as the Phillies do. That is where the Phillies seek their competitive advantage.

“We think we have one of the best, if not the best, group of scouts in the game,” said Proefrock, an assistant general manager. “We lean very heavily on their experience, their contacts, their different expertise.”

Sabermetrics, or the advanced research of baseball, extends beyond mere numbers.

In Washington, general manager Mike Rizzo commissioned a four-month study of the team’s medical needs, which led to the hiring of a doctor who analyzes players’ blood to determine what nutrients are required to help prevent injury.

The Mets this spring installed a system called TrackMan that uses missile-tracking technology to measure the speed, angle, and location of every batted ball. Seventeen teams use the system, according to the New York Times, and it could finally provide reliable defensive metrics.

Rick Petersen, Baltimore’s minor-league pitching coordinator, conducts biomechanical studies of his prospects’ pitching deliveries in an attempt to reduce injury.

The Chicago Cubs partnered with Bloomberg Sports in January to develop “a state-of-the-art player evaluation system” touted in a news release issued by the club.

The Houston Astros created a front office position titled “director of decision sciences” and hired a former NASA employee. The Boston Red Sox have employed Bill James, viewed as the father of modern baseball analysis, since 2003.

Proefrock would not detail the Phillies’ initiatives, or if any exist.

In a time when baseball teams are experimenting with other methods of evaluation, the Phillies trust their scouts to make those judgments.

“As long as Ruben is in charge,” Proefrock said, “I don’t think that is going to change.”

Which is why Ruben should not be in charge. He is trying to sell willful ignorance as a positive, not a negative.

I am in no way arguing against the evaluation process and the need for quality scouts. But to suggest that your scouts are so much better than everybody else’s and, as such, you  dismiss tools that are being proven essential by clubs throughout baseball is simply ‘head in the sand’ stuff.

Here’s what Ben Lindbergh, one of the best writers on the essential Baseball Prospectus website has to say about this. Content is free this weekend, so you can read it for yourselves:

Look: players don’t have to take walks to produce. Teams don’t have to study stats to succeed. But it’s a heck of a lot harder for them if they don’t. It’s tough enough to compete with 29 other teams when you have the same data at your disposal. Why hamstring yourself by working with incomplete information?

In the last line of the article, Proefrock says, “As long as Ruben is in charge, I don’t think that is going to change.” Of course, Amaro won’t be around forever. But even when the Phillies front office finally, inevitably joins the 21st century, under Amaro’s successor or his successor’s successor, it’s going to take years for them to catch up to the earlier adopters. They’ve succeeded without sabermetrics before. But winning without stats isn’t as feasible as it once was.

So, the best we can hope for this year is a flukish repeat of the ’83 Wheeze Kids. Apres that, le deluge.

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  1. Ruben Amaro…*facepalm* | twistingbladeproductions | April 8, 2013
  1. Jason330 says:

    The Phillies are determined to be the GOP of baseball.

    Also – I want one of these: a doctor who analyzes my blood to determine what nutrients are required to help prevent injury. Short of that, I want a blood sugar app for my iPhone that warns me when my liver and pancreas are working too hard.

  2. What also pisses me off is Amaro’s arrogance. He really had next to nothing to do in putting together the team that won the World Series. Pat Gillick and, yes, Ed Wade, were far more important.

    He’s just dancing as fast as he can to keep ahead of the inevitable flop. Which I think started last year.

    Who is HE to dismiss successful trends? No one expects him to morph into Billy Beane, but to act like he hit a triple when, in fact, he was born on third base, is a recipe for failure.

  3. geezer says:

    All anyone on the Phillies has to do is look at the 1993 team:

    They led the league in walks with 665, 77 more than the 2nd-place Cardinals, and so led the league in OBP with .351 (StL .341 2nd, league avg .327) on the way to scoring 877 runs, 5.41 per game.

    Last year they scored 684 runs. They slugged exactly the league average but lagged badly in OBP and so compiled an OPS+ of 92, meaning the offense was only 92% good as the average NL offense.

    Which would you rather have?

  4. Exactly. If Amaro thinks that walks and OBP (On-Base %) are overrated, then, IMHO, that’s a firing offense.

    Doesn’t mean that everyone on the club should work deep counts, but it does explain why dismissal of such key stats results in below-average offensive performance.

  5. Falcor says:

    Let’s not even go into the multitude of awful trades he’s made. He is terrible.

  6. I don’t think he as any support for his assertion that the Phils’ scouts are the best in the business.

    St. Louis clearly has the best farm system, and it’s not like they’ve been picking near the top every year. The Phils have next-to-nothing in the upper minors, meaning that, if they think they have a shot, Amaro will raid the lower minors of their top prospects for a rent-a-player yet again. See: Pence, Hunter.

    FWIW, the Phils’ system is ranked somewhere around 25th by those annoying sabermetricians. And it’s not like they just graduated a passel of prospects to the parent club, resulting in a misleadingly-low ranking.

    Just one more inconvenient nugget for Amaro to dismiss.

    He’s gotta go!

  7. Another Mike says:

    On the positive side, I think the Phils have some building blocks on the way, including Cody Asche and Maikel Franco at third base, Tommy Joseph at catcher, and Roman Quinn at shortstop. Freddy Galvis is still young, and Domonic Brown is only 25, though it seems like he’s been around forever.

    The problem is that Amaro and Charlie Manuel have never shown much inclination to give young players a shot. Also, going young may mean a year or two of sub-.500 baseball, which the Phillies don’t want. They have entered that sphere, like the Yankees and Red Sox, where rebuilding is not allowed. One of my fears is that they will try to keep the magic going by trading the young talent for veterans.

    But it’s opening day, so I’m full of optimism and can’t wait until tonight.

    That said, the team’s approach can be maddening. Don’t care about walks? Walks put men on base. Walks are production. To see this team strike out as much and leave as many men on base as it does drives me nuts.

    I have to think Amaro and his team rely on statistical and other analysis more than they say in this article. Scouts are great, but there has to be more. Go Phils!

  8. geezer says:

    Mike: None of those young players is an elite prospect.

  9. Falcor says:

    “FWIW, the Phils’ system is ranked somewhere around 25th by those annoying sabermetricians. And it’s not like they just graduated a passel of prospects to the parent club, resulting in a misleadingly-low ranking.”

    I’d disagree with this…

    Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Singleton, Domingon Santana, Gio Gonzalez, etc…

    I mean, yes we suck as a farm system, but a lot of that was trading away damn good prospects. SABR works much better in the majors than the minors, and I actually think our farm system development was working prior to handing the keys to RAJ the drunken sailor.

  10. I agree, Falcor. And I recognize that quality players in your system can become either players at the ML level for you, or bargaining chips in trades.

    I also agree that a system ranking can be misleading IF you just graduated a passel of good players to your major league roster.

    But Amaro’s system has NO impact higher-level prospects right now, and there is nothing approaching a sure thing in the lower minors.

    So, with an aging team, few promising minor leaguers, and a bloated salary cap, just HOW is the guy who got us into this mess gonna get us out of this?

    Me, I want a new guy.

  11. socialistic ben says:

    guys, guys, guys….
    didnt Chase look AWESOME monday night?

  12. Ben, Chase might be one of the few reasons to enjoy the Phils this year. But aging players with bone-on-bone in the knee joints are not generally good long-term bets.

    I know that they’re trying a different treatment approach with Chase now, and I hope it succeeds. I intend to enjoy him while I can.

  13. geezer says:

    Falcor: The problem is that they overpaid in each of the trades that disposed of those players. At least Halladay gave them some good years. Hunter Pence wasn’t worth the expense at the time and proved it over the course of a season.

    Trading prospects for stars only works if you get actual stars and they haven’t reached the decline phase of their careers.

  14. Falcor says:

    I agree Geezer, I mentioned his awful trades in an earlier post. The Howard contract is another glaring example of this.